It is good to see David Sirota and Chris Hayes talking about the relationship between white masculinity and mass shootings in the United States. So many folks are afraid to engage the obvious fact: white men are extremely over-represented among those individuals such as Adam Lanza who kill large numbers of people in one shooting incident. While folks like me can call attention to the public health problem that is white men and mass shootings, this is a conversation where "members of the tribe" such as Sirota and Hayes, are going to have to lead.
In the aftermath of the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, the reaction to my plain on the face observation that white man are grossly over-represented among mass shooting killers like Adam Lanza has been fascinating--albeit not surprising. Whiteness does not like to be confronted. It also hates being exposed to the light of truth.
Masculinity is equally resistant to any type of critical self-examination. The combination of the two, and an intervention which seeks to examine white masculinity in America and its relationship to violence, is destined to create a hostile reaction on the part of many white men.
In all, I am legitimately taken aback by the sincerity of the pain and offense at the idea that white men could be experts at committing singular types of crime in America.
Moreover, in surveying the comments and reactions to my (and other) essays about Adam Lanza, white masculinity, and gun violence, there is a tone of real hurt:
White Masculinity, like Whiteness, imagines itself as normal, innocent, and benign. The very premise that the intersection of those identities could result in socially maladaptive and violent behavior which is evil, and yes I use that term intentionally, is rejected by those deeply invested in a particularly conservative and reactionary type of White Masculinity, as something impossible. To even introduce such an idea is anathema to their universe. The language is verboten. The Other is suspect until proven otherwise; "real Americans" as "good people" are to be judged by precisely the opposite premise.
The hostility to the very obvious fact--that another mass shooting is in keeping with a pattern of white male gun violence in America--has followed a clear and dominant script.
First, to suggest that white men should be racially profiled (a claim I am not making, as "racial profiling" is ineffective police work) is "unAmerican" and not "fair." In this story, people of color complain when they are racially profiled; to suggest that white men should be subject to the same process is "hypocritical" and "reverse racism."
White privilege and the white racial frame are blinding: these same conservatives, and other members of the Gun Right, often advocate for the racial profiling of people of color under the language of "reasonable racism." But, these same conservatives and members of the Gun Right are reflexively against racial profiling when people like them could be subjected to it.
The second White deflection here is one that finds offense in the idea that white men should be critically examined as a cohort who are more likely to commit certain types of crimes.
The suggestion is made that blacks and other minorities are not studied that way. As such, it is not fair to say that the identities of "white" and "male" should be scrutinized. Said objections are 1) profoundly ignorant, and 2) mighty convenient and self-serving.
Black folks, and other minorities are the most scrutinized, examined, pathologized, dissected (quite literally in many cases), studied, theorized, conferenced on, and written about group in the United States. Historically, Black and brown folks are a "problem" in America. By definition, Whiteness, those overly identified with it, as well as its owners, are not accustomed to being challenged in such a way.
Ultimately, many are so invested in protecting Whiteness and White Masculinity from any type of critical interrogation about such identities' relationship to horrific mass murder in the United States; here, White Privilege trumps sanity, safety, and commonsense.
An aberrant variety of pathological White Masculinity, as embodied by mass gun murders such as Adam Lanza and John Holmes, is killing people--the vast majority of whom are white. Nevertheless, many in White America do not want to ask basic questions about the processes leading to these horrendous outcomes.
White racism, white privilege, and Whiteness, more generally, hurts white people. How so many are running away from hard conversations about those concepts, and their relationship to white crime and violence in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, is proof positive of that fact. Instead of protecting the lives of white children, many would rather ignore an obvious social evil that lies at the heart of Whiteness and its intersection with American gun culture. I can think of no greater example of how Whiteness is a type of property that is toxic to its owners.
There are some good folks asking hard questions about the relationship between Whiteness, White Masculinity, and gun violence. For example, William Hamby has offered up a great piece that is well worth reading.
There, he makes good use of a concept called aggrieved entitlement:
Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) proposed a mechanism that might well explain why white males are routinely going crazy and killing people. It's called "aggrieved entitlement." According to the authors, it is "a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine." This feeling was clearly articulated by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre. Harris said, "People constantly make fun of my face, my hair, my shirts..." A group of girls asked him, "Why are you doing this?" He replied, "We've always wanted to do this. This is payback... This is for all the sh*t you put us through. This is what you deserve."
At the risk of getting too existentialist, I'd like to propose a very simple and elegant explanation for not only school shootings but a host of other barbaric acts in recent years: White men are having a crisis of both aggrievement and entitlement. One need only look at the 2012 election season to see less brutal but equally mind-numbing examples of white men going mad because they are losing their power. The "Republican Meltdown" is a perfect example of men who previously had all the control escalating to madness when that control was lost.Hamby continues:
Until the 1980s, when semi-random spree murders "inexplicably" became the province of young white men, there was no need for young white men to resort to this kind of thing. Whatever happened in society, they would be the winners. These days, it's still not the worst thing to be a white male -- not by a long shot -- but it's not nearly as cushy as it used to be. Women's rights have grown by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years. Marriage has become more advantageous to women than men since no-fault divorce and custody policy favoring women have become the norm. We have... (gasp)... a black president. If someone grew up indoctrinated into the God and Country of the White Man, it's easy to understand how regardless of personal circumstance, feelings of entitlement and superiority could already be on shaky ground. One need only look up any of the hundreds of "Men's Rights Movement" websites, which are often thinly veiled hate groups, to see examples of (usually white) men who seem to be feeling very emasculated and powerless.
I want to say this next bit very carefully. It is absolutely true that white men have lost a lot of power in the last few decades. Inasmuch as these shooters are angry about feelings of powerlessness, their feelings are at least understandable. However, white men needed to lose a lot of power. Without exaggerating, one could say that a history of America is a history of white men lording power over... pretty much anyone who wasn't a white man. If America was ever going to truly be a land of equality, white men needed to lose their power.
The thing is, losing power hurts. That's the "aggrieve" part of aggrieved entitlement. It's one thing for a bunch of white men to feel hurt because they are no longer the kings of their own private castles, rulers of all they survey. It's another thing for them to feel like they're entitled to power, and more importantly, entitled to punish others for taking it away. And that -- aggrievement plus the feeling of entitlement -- is what may well drive people like Adam Lanza to these horrific crimes.Is he onto something here? Could this be the Rosetta Stone for understanding why white men, and privileged white men in particular, have taken to mass shootings as a means of expressing their rage and insecurity?
Is the psychic and emotional pain of realizing that white unearned privilege is threatened (even marginally) by the browning of America, upward mobility for women, gay rights, and the further dismantlement of American Apartheid (at least symbolically among elites and in the mass media) that deep a cut to White Masculinity, one which results in mass murder? How can White Men be so politically and economically strong as a group, but simultaneously so weak at the same time?
The paradox boggles the mind. Help me understand if you could.